Despite gains, women still highly outnumbered by men as university leaders

05 March 2021

International Women’s Day, celebrated on 8 March, is an opportunity that EUA has been seizing every year to further raise awareness on gender disparities in universities. In 2021, again, the Association contributes to this important discussion by presenting the latest data on female leadership among its 850-plus member universities in 48 countries*.

A rising number of female university rectors

The evolution of the proportion of female rectors in EUA member universities shows that there is a general trend of more women arriving to this position. According to EUA data, the proportion of female rectors has steadily increased between 2014 and 2021 by more than 70%.

evo of rectors












The data also reveals that in 2021, the number of universities led by women has significantly increased, but they still account for less than a fifth of all EUA member universities. The situation varies across countries as the proportion of female rectors is above the EUA average in 16 countries, and below in 14 countries. There are also 15 countries that do not have any female rectors among EUA members. However, positive progress can be observed as the number of countries with no female rector has been steadily decreasing every year.


rectors maps














A steady increase of vice-rector positions held by women

Similarly, female vice-rectors continue to be underrepresented, but the overall proportion is steadily advancing towards greater gender balance. According to EUA data collected between 2014 and 2021, the proportion of female vice-rectors has increased by nearly 20%.

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Looking at the 2021 data, on average, just under a third of all vice-rector positions are held by women. Again, the situation of female vice-rectors varies across the continent – the proportion of female rectors is above the EUA average in 22 countries, and below in 14 countries. In some countries, female vice-rectors even constitute a majority or have reached parity. 

virectors maps













A stable proportion of women in high-level university management positions

The figures on women holding high-level management positions at universities - such as heads of research or quality assurance – are more balanced. Nearly 60% of all positions are occupied by women, however with variation in the types of departments.

IWD level mgmt position












Increasing gender balance in university leadership

The EUA member data reveals that the proportion of women in university leadership positions differs by role. As women move up the university leadership ladder, they are progressively outnumbered by men. The two main bottlenecks for female leaders seem to be the achievement of full professorship, which is considered as a prerequisite for top-level positions - such as rectors or vice-rectors - and institutional mindsets that resist change. In conclusion, and despite the recent positive progress, there is still much room for improvement at the institutional and national levels to empower women in university leadership.


* The data refers solely to the EUA member universities. The data is not based on all categories of EUA members.

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